By Ikeddy Isiguzo
STEPHEN Okechukwu Keshi requires little introduction. I suppose the authorities of Nigerian football need to know him, if they were serious about the things they should do. If not for few hitches that attended his efforts in Togo, he would have taken Togo to the 2006 World Cup as the coach. He qualified Togo for the World Cup then the troubles followed.

Keshi is a home boy. He played his football in Nigeria from St’ Finbarr’s College, Akoka, where Henry Nwosu, who at 18 in 1980, was the youngest player to have featured for Nigeria at the Nations Cup was his team mate. Keshi did not play in that competition, but he rose through the junior ranks to become one of Nigeria’s most famous players.

His stints at ACB, New Nigerian Bank, as captain, then as captain of the Green Eagles, playing in five Nations Cup competitions, remain indelible. Keshi led the mass exodus of Nigerian players abroad for professional careers, following a national ban on him and some of his team mates for reporting later to camp in 1985. He Nations Cup collections   no medal (1982), silver (1984, 1988), bronze (1992) and gold (1994) as well as being the captain when Nigeria qualified for its first ever World Cup in 1994.

With his playing career over, he opted to coach, trained in America, qualified and presented himself for service to a doubting nation.

Nigeria has ignored Keshi at great loss. His initial attempts at getting the attention of the football authorities were ignored, especially at the level of making him the head coach for the senior team. The disagreements were built on two factors  Keshi’s insistence on being treated as a professional coach, something the football authorities reserve for foreigners, and the demand that he must not only be seen but heard. One of his demands was that he should be paid in Dollars because his family lived in America. This issue was considered a sacrilege.

I am not really sure what Keshi’s next stunt with Mali would be. Anyone who has followed his career, including the promotion of Togo to a factor in the continent’s football would not be surprised about the result last Monday night.

Whichever way one looks at it, pulling back four goals in minutes, against the home in a crucial opening game, is remarkable.

Some are already likening this to the battle of Damman, 21 years ago, where the Flying Eagles came from four goals down to defeat the Soviet Union in the quarter-final of the FIFA U-20 Championship.

Each time we are re-building the Eagles, we overlook Keshi. When we ignore his achievements with smaller teams that lack the quality players and options that are available to the Eagles, we showcase the lack of seriousness in our determination to improve the lot of our football.

I have always maintained that we need a competent coach. Neither nationality, nor colour of skin can substitute for competence. Keshi’s abilities can be improved if he works with better players and a federation that is also competent.

There would be a long search for new coaches for the Eagles after the Nations Cup. I am certain the result coach Shuaibu Amodu would achieve in Angola even if it includes winning the Cup, a remote possibility, would not lessen the calls for his replacement.

Whenever that decision is finally made, a combination of Keshi, Samson Siasia, working with coaches of their choice could lay the foundation for competence, rather than the running excuses for our unstable results.

Doubtlessly, only a competent federation would join the search for excellence, by employing the best hands for the job, without thinking that being Nigerians, they should not get the best treatment. Such a federation is not yet in sight, meaning that Keshi could remain unrecognised as a coach in the country that he gave his best.
Nigeria’s loss would be the gain of all those who search for Keshis, wherever they could be found.

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